Bears' ugly reality could give way to magnificent 2024

A few thoughts on the Bears: first, some harsh and ugly reality, and then, just maybe, glorious and unprecedented possibility.

First, the truth. The 2023 Bears are terrible. Galactically, heart-breakingly, soul-crushingly terrible. They’re not so bad that they obliterate all good feelings about that 1985 Bears team, but hoo boy, they’re close.

But there’s a path out of the darkness, and it runs right through, of all places, Charlotte, North Carolina. In other words, Bears fans in the year 2023 should connect with Auburn fans circa 2020-22. Both of them have a vested interest in rooting against Bryce Young.

This is nothing against the Heisman-winning No. 1 draft pick, who by all accounts is a perfectly friendly gentleman and an inspiring teammate. But Young now happens to lead the Carolina Panthers — when he’s actually on the field, that is — and the Chicago Bears would very much like to see the Panthers step on their own tails this season.

Chicago held the No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL draft, and opted to trade that pick to Carolina for it’s No. 1 pick this year and next, reasoning that Justin Fields is the Bears’ answer at quarterback. Yes, we’re just three weeks in, but barring a sudden and decisive reversal, it appears that Fields is most assuredly not the answer at quarterback.

With the “It’s Still Early” light strobe-flashing, here’s what we know: Fields should be thanking heaven for Zach Wilson. In virtually every major statistical quarterback category, Fields ranks near the bottom of the league, with Wilson trailing him. Only Sam Howell and Jimmy Garoppolo have thrown more interceptions. Only Wilson and a less-than-prime Joe Burrow have a worse rating than Fields among three-game quarterbacks.

By a strange quirk of scheduling, both Chicago and Carolina — each 0-3 — will square off against other 0-3 teams in Denver and Minnesota, respectively. The, uh, “good” news is that both the Bears and the Panthers are the underdogs in these slapfights. And if the games break that way, if both Chicago and Carolina remain winless after this weekend, well, that’s good news for the Bears, because every Panthers loss is a win for 2024 draft prep in Halas Hall.

Only one team in the common draft era has held both the No. 1 and 2 picks in a single year: the 1992 Indianapolis Colts. It didn’t exactly work out; the Colts took defensive end Steve Emtman and linebacker Quentin Coryatt, neither of whom reached their pre-draft expectations. Five of the next six players drafted were Pro Bowlers, including Desmond Howard and Troy Vincent. The Colts finished that year 9-7, and wouldn’t reach the playoffs for another four seasons, not until a quarterback by the name of Jim Harbaugh — a former Bear, incidentally — came along.

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) walks off the field after a 41-10 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sept. 24, 2023, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Now in his third season as a starter, Justin Fields has thrown three TDs, four interceptions and has the lowest quarterback rating in the NFL. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) (Chicago Tribune via Getty Images)

But let’s set aside such grim history and look to the future with hope. (Difficult to do when we’re talking about Chicago, it’s true.) Let’s suppose for just a second that the Bears end up with the first and second picks in the draft. By all accounts, the 2024 draft is setting up to be one of the deepest in recent memory, with a rich collection of quarterbacks. And guess who might just be in need of a quarterback?

Pair Caleb Williams, who already has one Heisman and might just add a second, with another pick like Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., who’s a generational talent at wide receiver, and you’ve got the makings of a duo that can help reshape Chicago’s fortunes.

And even if Chicago doesn’t get the top two picks, there are viable options for reshaping the Bears’ anemic offense and fluttery defense up and down the top 10. Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye and Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry could each step into a starting role next season.

Now, it’s worth wondering who exactly will be around to make those potential picks. Will Matt Eberflus still be coaching at the end of the season … or at the end of October? Will GM Ryan Poles be pulling the strings come April? If the Bears play badly enough to put themselves in position to make that No. 1 pick, ownership might not want to trust the people that put them into that hole with the task of getting them out.

A high draft pick is no guarantee of success — just take a look at the Jets’ record with quarterbacks — but two bites at the apple might give even the Bears a better chance of good news. Ditka knows they could use it around Soldier Field.

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